Fuzzy Nation

In recent years, Hollywood has been remaking or rebooting nearly every property it could get its hands on – including franchises that are only a few years old. Some have speculated an unhealthy obsession with branding and marketing, others just call it a result of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy. This sort of thing happens frequently in other forms of art as well. Indeed, it’s a hallmark of Theater – every night, a new remake! You don’t hear people complaining about yet another production of Macbeth, do you? And covering songs is quite common as well. In both of those realms, the remakes are outnumbered by original works (well, maybe not in theater), though, which is probably a good thing.

One area that doesn’t seem to see too much in the way of remakes is literature. Enter John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation. He calls this novel a “reimagining of the story and events in Little Fuzzy, the 1962 Hugo-nominated novel by H. Beam Piper.” Not having read the original, I can’t speak to the fidelity or necessity of the remake, but I am confident in calling it a fun, entertaining take on several common SF tropes.

Our tale begins with Jack Holloway, an independent contractor working for ZaraCorp, prospecting and surveying the planet Zara XXIII. ZaraCorp is apparently a company that basically strips down planets for all of their useful materials – metal ores, oil, and a rare mineral called sunstones. Not much time is spent mentioning how planets are discovered, but once they are, a team of specialists attempts to determine if there’s any sentient life on those planets, and if there isn’t, then ZaraCorp (and/or its competitors) are given a license to “exploit” the planet. Holloway, a former lawyer, has just found a huge cache of valuable sunstones. It will take years to exploit and even Holloway’s measly 0.25% share will garner him millions, if not billions of credits.

Not long after that, Holloway goes home and discovers that a small, catlike creature has snuck into his house. These ridiculously cute creatures begin to act suspiciously intelligent (incidentally, while I like the cover art, I have to say that the Fuzzy pictured there does not seem as cute as they do in the book). And from here, I’m guessing you can figure out several of the central conflicts in the book.

I burned through the book in about two sittings, and probably could have read it in one big session if I timed it right. I’m not sure if that’s simply to do with the length of the book (it’s about 300 pages with relatively large type and spacing) or if it’s Scalzi’s knack for page-turning storytelling (something I’ve talked about before). As previously hinted at, there are several common SF tropes at work here (Big mean corporations! Planetary exploitation! Is it sentient?!), and while Scalzi isn’t often breaking new ground or even exploring various ideas very deeply, I think there’s something to be said for a very well executed trope. There are several times when you can easily predict what will happen next, though Scalzi does manage some genuine twists and turns later in the story. It’s clear he’s working in pure storytelling mode here, which is perhaps why the pages seemed to turn themselves so quickly.

I do want to single out one aspect of the story that I think is particularly well done, and that’s the character of Jack Holloway. The story is told mostly from his perspective, and he’s got a certain charisma that makes him a good protagonist, but he’s also kind of a selfish prick. I don’t want to give anything away, nor do I want to give the wrong impression – he’s certainly not an anti-hero or anything, he’s just a fully fleshed out character who makes mistakes with the best of us. Flawed characters can be difficult and often present stumbling blocks to otherwise good stories, but I think Scalzi manages to pull this one off well.

Again, I have not read the original Little Fuzzy novel, but I suspect that Scalzi has done it proud. I’m not particularly looking forward to other reimaginings of classic SF, but I think in this case, it worked well, and I actually think that Scalzi’s choice, while not totally obscure, was old enough that he may be introducing lots of folks to Piper’s original works (I believe there are a few other Fuzzy novels as well). Among Scalzi’s novels that I’ve read, this one is towards the top of the list, though I don’t think it’s his best work. I do think that most of his novels would make good introductions to the SF genre though, and would recommend them. While Scalzi may be best known for taping bacon to his cat, I would argue that he should be better known for his novels! Fuzzy Nation would be a good place to start.